Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wild Saturday Night

Sometimes I scare myself, walking in the dark around the pond.
At night, it becomes a very different place, filled with different sounds,
illuminated only by the moon—and my flashlight.

Back in a shallow corner, the toads are trilling again. I can see their small bodies in the distance, sitting on clumps of algae—projecting their songs across the water into the night.

And, at the shoreline, a pair of steady white eyes that are caught in the beam of my light, as I scan the surface. Probably deer, unsure if they should bound into the safety of the woods--for I know they drink at this shallow, and follow the many prints they leave on these trails.

The water is already lower than I had hoped, for April. Spring rains that filled it to bursting a few weeks ago, have already found their way to a muskrat hole and emptied a foot of depth. But the edge areas are walkable now, and nighttime hides my stalking figure from what lives here.

They seem to have no fear—at least of me—as they summon others of their kind. American toads.

Or is it, that the force that has drawn them from land to this water is stronger than fear.
I dim my light, and unseen figures raise their voices, joining the appeal.

A splash...and a swirl startle me.
Probably, the muskrat, who crosses these shallows underwater, is equally alarmed--
surprised to see my large spotted boots so close to her watery front door.
Little ripples disturb the smooth surface,
as last year's bullfrog tadpoles
and small fish scurry past my toes.

In the reflected light of the full moon, I can see now that the water beside me has been interrupted -- a large mass of algae protruding above the surface. Almost as if I wasn't standing there at all, a huge snapping turtle, barely identifiable beneath her mossy shell, drifts closer--her feeding, the swirling I thought to be the muskrat.
This enormous turtle, that, in daylight, plunges beneath the surface when I approach from yards away, now, calmly searches the muck around my boot for dinner--or perhaps, intends to snag a distracted toad.

An unusual sound, muffled and throaty, draws my eyes to the opposite bank. I watch with my light as she leaves, the dry grass rustling as her small form moves away from the pond toward the oak woods.
She pauses often to look back at me as she trots off—
her glowing eyes, amber.

Animals of the night have eyes that have a mirror-like surface, the tapetum lucidum, which intensifies what little light there is available. When a flashlight or headlight of a vehicle reflects off this surface, the eyeshine of a characteristic color is sometimes seen.

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Eco Enthusiast said...

That's a great picture of the toads mating. Your writing is very eloquent about the pond--what a treasure.

ncmountainwoman said...

Wonderful post and great pictures. I have a couple of questions. How high is the dam, and what is the water source for the pond (i.e., a little creek or larger one)? Was it already there when you took over guardianship of the land? How far from the pond is your vernal pool?

Just curious.

nina said...

The dam holds a basin that can contain, at its deepest, just over 8 feet of water. The remainder of the outline s shallow, draining 2 small creeks, so small that for long periods they are dry. So, the overall shape is a "Y", the dam being the base the "Y" stands on.
It was here for years before we'd taken over the property--but we've had the dam rebuilt to catch more runoff.
The vernal pools are within our acreage, but don't connect in any way. (probably 100yds away?)

Curiosity encouraged!

Old Wom Tigley said...

Fantastic. it held me spellbound

mon@rch said...

Love watching these guys and really love hearing them be so vocal! Great photos as always!

Marvin said...

Now that's what I call a real Saturday Night Live. Thanks for sharing. Great photos.

bobbie said...

This was exciting! The pond at night! You really made us feel that we were there with you.

Jennifer said...

Saturday Night Live... Marvin, you crack me up. But I must admit: well said!

Kathiesbirds said...

Photos great as always, but I really love your prose.